Paranoid Penguin - Linux VPN Technologies
Three other Linux VPN tools are worth mentioning here, because you'll occasionally see references to them. Two of them I recommend against using, and the third I'm not sure about.
CIPE and vtun conceptually are similar to OpenVPN. They encapsulate traffic into encrypted UDP or TCP packets. Unlike OpenVPN, however, they use homegrown cryptosystems rather than OpenSSL. That is, they do use standard cryptographic algorithms such as Blowfish and MD5, but in custom implementations (session-key generation, user authentication and so on). Because implementation is one of the hardest parts of cryptographic programming, this is a dangerous thing to do, and sure enough, the cryptographer Peter Gutmann has found serious flaws in both CIPE and vtun.
In neither case have the flaws Gutmann identified been fixed, as far as I can tell. And neither CIPE nor vtun appears to be in active development anymore (CIPE for sure is not), which is reason enough to avoid any security application, except when that application is part of a Linux distribution whose packagers provide patches themselves. I do not, therefore, recommend using either CIPE or vtun.
tinc, like CIPE and vtun, uses a custom cryptographic implementation to encapsulate VPN traffic in encrypted UDP packets. And like those packages, Gutmann found flaws in tinc, in the same analysis I referred to earlier. Unlike CIPE and vtun, however, tinc's developers have responded to Gutmann's findings in a credible manner; at least from my perspective (IANAC—that is, “I am not a cryptographer”), they appear to have some clue as to what they're doing.
I leave it to you to check out the tinc Web site, read Gutmann's page (which stops well short of being a serious research report), do a few Google searches for the aftermath of Gutmann's statements and decide for yourself whether tinc looks like just the thing you've been looking for or more like an unjustifiable risk given the availability and quality of OpenS/WAN and OpenVPN.
Finally, a word about a popular new approach supported in many commercial VPN products, SSL-VPN. SSL-VPN works in practically the same way as Stunnel and SSH port forwarding. It tunnels network transactions on a per-service, per-server basis rather than at the circuit level. Unlike those other approaches, however, SSL-VPN products present end users with a centralized Web interface in which all available servers/services hosted by the VPN server are listed as hyperlinks. When the user clicks on a link, typically a Java applet is downloaded that serves as the application client software.
The SSL-VPN server products I've seen are all proprietary, but because the client side is usually cross-platform, in Java, Linux systems can act as SSL-VPN clients.
FreeS/WAN and OpenS/WAN (preferably the latter) and IPSec are probably the most secure and powerful VPN tools in the Linux toolbox. OpenVPN appears to be a simpler, albeit less-scrutinized, alternative. OpenSSH and Stunnel provide handy point solutions when encapsulating more than a few specific applications is overkill. Still other Linux VPN tools are available, but some are provably dangerous, and on the others the jury is still out. Which VPN tool is the best fit for you? Obviously, I can't tell you that without knowing your particular needs and resources. But, I hope this little overview has at least given you a useful starting point.
Resources for this article: www.linuxjournal.com/article/7923.
Mick Bauer, CISSP, is Linux Journal's security editor and an IS security consultant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He's the author of Building Secure Servers With Linux (O'Reilly & Associates, 2002).
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